The wonders of Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal. A mind-bogglingly 600km long, 1.6 km deep with a water visibility of up to 40m. The name ‘Lake’ doesn’t really do it justice; a freshwater inland sea would be a more accurate description. It even has its own species of seal seadog lakedog, for Christ’s sake. With no Internet available on the train for 5 days (luckily we are not addicted…) and no previous research done, we leapt into the unknown when we arrived at Irkutsk.
After those 5 days on the train, a shower was pretty necessary vital. Irkutsk was in the past compared with Paris (but having been to Paris, we found that these days the comparison is a bit dated). We walked through the city in the sun, long the fast moving Angara river. The wooden houses in the city are quite interesting, if somewhat dilapidated and the city has a surprisingly modern feel.
Lake Baikal – Listvianka
The next day it was time for exploring the wonders of Lake Baikal. We left the hostel in search of the correct bustop, wandering all over until we finally found the unofficial minibus area and got down to the lake. We walked along the lake shore, David drank some of the water and we made this little stone cairn:
Eating the smoked fish is almost required by law, if you visit Baikal, the omul is a relative of the salmon (a more elegant, sexier relative, you might say). Everyone demands that when you are there, you eat some. So, we did and we must report that the flavor is: delicious!
In our wanderings we befriended a stray dog and promptly named him Baik and pretended he was our own dog. Baik is/was/will always be awesome!
We walked through the city and hiked along the side of the (totally not steep and totally safe) mountain, it was glorious.
Now that we had internet in our hostel, we stayed up quite late each night, researching the next leg of our trip. This organizing for the next part of our trip is already becoming a way of life ;-). And how easy that we have internet these days to do this. We can remember the days of traveling with only the Lonely planet has your guide and savior, your holy book.
The next day we headed back to Lake Baikal, but this time we wanted more nature and less people. So we decided to catch the ferry across the mouth of the river. It leaves every three hours, and of course we ran to catch it, the last ones on. Standard procedure for us now, hehe. Just by the decaying Port Baikal we saw this otter/mink, quite a curious and inquisitive little fella.
Later, wandered along the train tracks, which only sees one train a day. Shortly we came across an amazing fresh spring, such delicious, cool, fresh water.
Then we encountered two babushkas with big backpacks on a multi-day hike. One was 70yrs old, for sure. Much humbled, we resolved to never complain about our bags or anything on any future hikes, until we are 65 at least.
After a warm walk, David decided that a swim was in order. To protect the children, Tamar didn’t take any photos of his naked swim. David started to realize that perhaps no one else was swimming for a good reason, as he started to walk into the lake. Needles of cold pain lancing every square centimeter of skin immersed in the water, he bravely courageously foolishly continued and dove/fell into the water when it started to get about the knees, for reasons well know to other men. The water temp was 5-10 degrees. Shock set in pretty much immediately and David swam extremely fast back shore. He will always maintain that it was still a good idea. Kloggy also decided to wet his toes.
We headed back, hailed a bus quickly, but there were no seats, so we got extra exercise of standing for the lurching 1hr ride back to Irkutsk.
Since Moscow, we have been cooking every day, to save money for the more expensive parts of our trip. Grabbing some bread and meat/cheese/egg from supermarket, eating simple but filling food. We aren’t too worried about putting on weight with our current diet. One evening we decided to splurge (read: spend max 10 euros for dinner for the both of us) and we happened to cross an Asian restaurant. But, a church group had booked it for an evening for married couples! They did some fast consulting and let us eat in the restaurant with them. However, our lack of Russian and more importantly, (we think) confessing not being marriage slowed further communications. Their loss 😉
Five minutes to spare
We had to get back on the Trans-Siberian in the evening, so we had a sleep in, last minute organising of our tour in Mongolia. Picked up the train tickets in a weird place, a 30min bus ride to the south of Irkutsk. At a non-descript apartment. Afterwards we relaxed at a local sauna place, David had the sauna to himself and Tamar was surrounded by Russian ladies in hers. Quite a relaxing experience. We made dinner in our hostel, caught up with family on skype/whatsapp. No late minute train for us this time, an hour before the train left we were outside waiting for bus number 20. Just waiting, no worries, the bus will come soon. Any minute now. Surely, the next bus will be bus 20…. #&% bus 20, where the &%# are you? What if the bus doesn’t come? What other options do we have? Taxi, no not enough rubles left. Tram, yes possible, but the tramstop is not close by. Hmm, the tram is the only other option though, so… Now we needed to walk, very fast, to the tram stop, with all our bags. There is the tram stop. Ok, the tram will come. Surely. Soon. A tram arrived, David ran in and made choo-choo sounds, this was greeted with да (yes). Jumping on the tram, when we have 15 minutes left. That will be heaps of time, won’t it? Yes, yes so much time. Shit, why is this happening again… It arrived with 5min to spare, sprinting off the tram to the train. We made it! Again…
Angry border control
When the train started moving and we arrived at our carriage, our train buddies for this leg of the journey welcomed us. We soon figured they were Dutchies and the neighbours next door too. This was perfectly timed as all the Thursdays on our trip are set as Dutch Donderdag (Thursday), the day that we speak only Dutch.
The landscape and scenery was changing fast and the wonderful Mongolian nature sites were appearing. At the border we had a stop of 4 hours, the train would leave at 12.50 Moscow time. So as adventures ‘gekkies’ we started with a hike up a mountain to pass the time. From up there we saw our next stop, the river. Our train buddies joined us and we had a great time in the water and with enjoying the view in the shade (so, so hot in the sun).
As we didn’t wanted to be late again, we decided to walk back an hour early. And what happened next, we never expected. When we came close to the train people started signaling us that we had to hurry up. Why? What is going on? We ran to the train, had to show our passports to the Russian boarder control agents straight away and our train cabin lady kept saying very bad, very late, very bad. We were still puzzled, what is going on… In the train we found out what was wrong. Yes, the train wasn’t leaving before 12.50, but everyone had to be back in the train at 13.50 for border control and spend another 2 hours in a crazy hot train without AC.
We somehow missed the part about being back within 2 hours and in the end we were happy that we did, as we only had to wait 50 minutes in the steaming hot train before crossing the border and wait there for another 1,5 hours in the train sauna. We ended the day with a birthday celebration and lots of vodka. This train journey was again a success.
We arrived in Ulaanbaatar very early this morning. At the moment of writing this blog we are waiting to meet our couchsurfing hosts . We already had a busy morning though. We picked up our train tickets to Beijing, we met our translator and driver with whom we are going to do a 12 day tour through Mongolia, starting tomorrow. We are very looking forward to this next adventure. But today we start with exploring the city Ulaanbaatar. You’ll hear from us in two weeks, as (thankfully) yurts don’t have wifi yet!